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New support group invites medical students to discuss their mental health

Amanda Miller, MSW (pictured above) is the Program Director of the Mood Disorders Center. She has specialized training in mood disorders and will be facilitating the support groups. 

By Aleksandra Vujicic

Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Pursuing a medical degree can be a grueling mental challenge. Hectic work hours may leave little time to focus on personal wellness and possibly even invite feelings of isolation.

Kaci McCleary and Innie Kim, both in their fourth year at the Carver College of Medicine (CCOM), can attest to the stress that comes with medical school; but they can also attest to the added challenge of living with depression long before they received their white coats.

“Medical students have the best poker faces,” McCleary said. “We’re perfectionists and we don’t want to show any vulnerability. But in reality, we’re humans.”

The stigma, and sometimes even shame, of having a mental illness may prevent some students from seeking treatment, even though medication and therapy have shown to be effective in treating the symptoms.

“I think we’re doing a lot better at normalizing and destigmatizing mental illness for our patients, telling them that this is a disease that’s treatable,” Kim said. “However, we definitely have a double standard when it comes to physicians themselves.”

The women, who also run the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter at CCOM, proposed a new kind of resource for medical students: a peer support group. And with the backing of the University of Iowa Mood Disorders Center, the monthly groups are set to begin in September. The goal of the group is to provide a judgement-free zone where students can learn how to cope with mental illness and connect with classmates to encourage ongoing support.

A 2016 meta-analysis from 43 countries found that 27 percent of medical students had depression or showed depressive symptoms, with only 15 percent of those students seeking medical help.

The Carver College of Medicine also provides a number of resources for urgent and ongoing clinical mental health care needs. Students may visit the Medical Student Counseling Center or be referred to the Psychiatry Department for medication and psychotherapy treatment options. Drs. Elaine Himadi, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, and Hristina Koleva, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, both regularly see UI medical students.

“It’s not about just about having the resources but about creating an environment where people feel like it’s ok to access them,” Kim said. “Having a student support group sends out a message that this is so prevalent.”

The groups will be facilitated by Amanda Miller, MSW, the MDC’s Program Director who has specialized training in mood disorders, and Dr. Jess Fiedorowicz, the MDC Director and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, will be on hand for any acute medical needs.

“Doctors, whether practicing physicians or in those training, are not inherently immune to disease, including mental illness” Miller said. “The Carver College of Medicine Medical Student Counseling Center provides clinical care to medical students at no charge; we aim to expand on this individualized care by offering group support that might, we hope, reduce stigma and thereby increase the number of students accessing mental health care when they need it.”

The 45-minute, meetings will primarily consist of open sharing and will aim to connect students with each other for ongoing support. Participants will be urged to keep group discussions confidential.  

“In the past, it has been very therapeutic to just hear that other people have had the same experiences as me,” McCleary said. “It’s validating.”

Join Us:

Mood Disorders Center Medical Student Support Group

WHEN: 3:00-3:45 PM, third Wednesday of every month

WHERE: 8917 John Pappajohn Pavilion (elevator I, level 8)



Tuesday, September 19, 2017